Parable of a Bad Samaritan - Word&Way

Parable of a Bad Samaritan

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, the Samaritan put the man in a chokehold for 15 minutes until the man was dead.

At least, that’s how the text reads in the New DeSantis Standard Version.

As the governor of Florida eyes a presidential run, he tweeted his support on Friday (May 12) for Daniel Penny, a man who’s been arrested for killing Jordan Neely after putting the 30-year-old Black man in a chokehold on a New York subway train earlier this month. Neely, who was unhoused and suffered from mental disorders, was acting erratic but hadn’t harmed anyone at the time the ex-Marine approached him. Penny has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and faces up to 15 years in prison. So DeSantis joined a chorus of rightwing figures in praising the vigilante (and in throwing in an antisemitic attack on the prosecutor).

“We must defeat the Soros-Funded DAs, stop the Left’s pro-criminal agenda, and take back the streets for law abiding citizens. We stand with Good Samaritans like Daniel Penny. Let’s show this Marine… America’s got his back,” DeSantis tweeted.

DeSantis wasn’t the only person who saw news that a man had choked the life out of another person and then somehow thought about Jesus’s parable about “the Good Samaritan.” Tim Pool, who donated $20,000 to Penny’s legal defense fund, was just one of several political commentators to make the claim as he tweeted, “Penny is the Subway Good Samaritan and we are lucky to have brave souls like him who are willing to do the right thing.” And the National Police Association also christened Penny the “NY subway good Samaritan,” which fits with a trend of police and media outlets labeling people a “good Samaritan” after they kill someone.

On May 5, 2023, people walk past graffiti calling attention to the death of Jordan Neely that was painted on the sidewalk at an entrance to Washington Square Park in New York City. (Brooke Lansdale, Associated Press)

Perhaps DeSantis and the others haven’t read the biblical text recently (and this isn’t the first time DeSantis has rewritten a biblical passage to fit his politics). So we’ll make it very clear: you aren’t a “good Samaritan” if you kill someone. That’s like calling someone “a Jonah” after they catch a little fish on their hook or praising someone as “a Daniel” when they are eaten by a lion.

But beyond the biblical illiteracy, there’s a darker problem here. The Penny case is the latest in a trend of rightwing politicians and commentators lifting up a vigilante after that person kills another person — especially if the victim is Black or a social justice protester. The reflex to support such street violence leads to the quick canonization of such vigilantes as new American saints. So this issue of A Public Witness documents this trend in recent political discourse and considers the dangerous gospel it preaches.

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